People Living Next to Mine Dumps at Risk‚ Study Finds

Penwell Dlamini - Sunday Times
 August 31, 2017
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Communities living in the shadows of Johannesburg’s infamous mine dumps are at greater risk of respiratory illnesses than those residing in the city’s leafy northern suburbs‚ a new study by the Bench Marks Foundation has found.

The study‚ titled Waiting to inhale‚ looked at household health and wellbeing in four mine-impacted communities in Johannesburg. The communities studied were Riverlea‚ Diepkloof‚ Meadowlands and Doornkop‚ all of which are situated close to one of the most intensely mined areas on the planet.

The research found that many residents of Riverlea‚ for example‚ are living on oxygen machines. The residents believe that dust from the nearby Mooifontein mine dump is contributing to the poor air quality that they experience‚ especially on windy days.

The three-year period over which the research extended coincided with one of the worst droughts in recent memory across South Africa. The normal windy season continued from August 2015 right through to September 2017.

More than half (56.1%) of residents identified respiratory ailments (cough‚ sinus‚ asthma and TB) as their most persistent health problem. About 4% of respondents also reported eye problems.

Bench Marks says that the respiratory problems may be associated with dust from the surrounding mine operations and tailings‚ asbestos roofing and smoking.

Almost all the surveyed houses (97%) in Riverlea had asbestos roofs‚ even though there has been a total ban on the use of asbestos in building materials since 2008.

However‚ 92% of the respondents believed their health problems were caused by surrounding mines.

“Their respiratory problems were not caused by the burning of coal‚ paraffin‚ or wood‚ as some mine studies of the community’s health claim‚ given that 99% of the households had access to electricity‚ which was installed as long ago as 1988‚” the Bench Marks research said.

Residents of Diepkloof‚ suffered from high levels of respiratory ailments‚ with 48.6% complaining of coughing‚ sinus‚ asthma and TB.

Researchers also compared their findings to those of similar research conducted in Danville‚ Mafikeng‚ chosen as a control study because it is a township with asbestos roofs that in all ways approximates Riverlea‚ except that there is no mining in close proximity.

Only 25.6% of Danville residents suffered from respiratory problems.

About half of those of Riverlea had the same respiratory issues.

Danville‚ however‚ had fewer asbestos roofs (52.6%) than Riverlea‚ where almost all of those surveyed had such roofs.

“The research findings in these three communities suggest that mining activity could play a higher role in respiratory ailments than the prevalence of asbestos roofing‚ the foundation commented.

“However‚ Bench Marks noted that it would require a proper epidemiological study to determine a direct correlations between tailings dust and respiratory problems in these communities‚ such as blood tests‚ to determine the presence or otherwise of toxic substances that might also be present in the mine waste‚” the foundation said.
(Source: https://www.timeslive.co.za/sunday-times/lifestyle/health-and-sex/2017-08-29-people-living-next-to-mine-dumps-at-risk-study-finds/?platform=hootsuite)

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Penwell Dlamini - Sunday Times

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